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Bishop Diana Akiyama Breaking Ground for Asian American Women

Bishop Diana Akiyama is the first Japanese American woman ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

PORTLAND — The Rt. Rev. Diana D. Akiyama was ordained and consecrated as the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon on Jan. 30 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland.

Akiyama was the first Japanese American woman ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, and she is the first Asian American woman consecrated bishop in the Episcopal Church. She is the first bishop to be consecrated at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in over a century.

Ordained in 1988 in the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, Akiyama has extensive experience in Christian formation, teaching, social justice advocacy and mission field, having served ministries in Oregon, California, and Hawaii.

She holds a Ph.D. in religion and social ethics from the University of Southern California (2001), a M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley (1988), and a B.S. from the University of Oregon (1981).

“I am very excited to begin the work of building up the beloved community – the body of Christ,” Akiyama said. “Our call, in this time, is to heal, reconcile, and love each other as Christ loves us.”

The Rt. Rev. Gretchen Rehberg, bishop of Spokane and the vice president of Province VIII, served as the chief consecrator. Joining Rehberg as co-consecrators were the Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley, the former bishop of the Diocese of Oregon, the Rt. Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick, bishop of the Diocese of Hawaii, and the Rt. Rev. Laurie Larson Caesar, bishop of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

“The good news though today is the church sees you,” the Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior, former bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and a personal friend of Akiyama, preached during the sermon. “The church sees you in ways that they should have seen you long ago, and now through the work of the Holy Spirit, because of you, and through you, and from you, others will be seen. This is a good day for the church.”

The sermon was followed by a prayer written by Akiyama: it was sung by Mila Polevia, the music director of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Kapa’au, Hawaii, where Akiyama previously served as vicar before being elected bishop on August 29, 2020.

Other bishops in attendance were the Rt. Rev. Patrick Bell, bishop of Eastern Oregon, the Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, bishop of Olympia, and the Rt. Rev. Megan Traquair, bishop of Northern California. The Very Rev. Nathan LeRud, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, greeted the guests present in the cathedral and online, and local interfaith leaders offered a message of welcome to the new bishop through a video message.

Due to the health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance was limited to service participants, and close family and friends of the bishop, and was livestreamed online for the whole diocese and the greater church, which can be found on the diocese’s website. The bilingual service bulletin is available here.

Diana Akiyama is the 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.

Included in the bulletin is a full description of Akiyama’s vestments, designed and constructed by Karen Illman Miller, a Corvallis-based artist and a master of katazome, a traditional Japanese stencil dyeing technique. The vestments incorporate themes and elements special to Oregon and Hawaii, particularly the element of water.

“Thank you, the people of Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, for calling me to walk with you in this next season of our life together working to build up the beloved community,” Akiyama said, addressing the small gathering in the nave and hundreds of viewers online. “I look forward to meeting each and every one of you and being in community, particularly after this pandemic.”

Akiyama’s own family history influenced her desire to work on behalf of those who have been marginalized. Her father and his family were among the thousands of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest who were incarcerated at the Minidoka, Idaho camp during World War II. The family’s home and ranch in Hood River, Ore. were looted during their absence. Akiyama herself experienced racial prejudice as a child growing up in Oregon.

The vote at last year’s Electing Convention was confirmed after two ballots, concluding the year-long process of seeking a successor for Hanley, who began his service in the diocese in 2010.

The Electing Convention was the first all-online election held within The Episcopal Church. Due to state-imposed COVID-19 restrictions and health concerns, the originally scheduled June 2020 election was postponed, tentatively refashioned as a multi-site event, and ultimately conducted remotely via Zoom. The majority of voting delegates reported from their own homes, some from their parish settings, and a head-table was established to oversee the election proceedings at All Saints Episcopal Church.

“We did not choose the circumstances under which to hold the Episcopal Election. However, with the exceptionally creative and hard work of the Transition Committee, the flexibility of our candidates and the fervent prayers of the diocese we feel so blessed to bring this process to a full and joyous conclusion.” said the Rev. Dr. Patti Hale, president of the Standing Committee.

“It is with deep gratitude to the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Oregon gathered in convention this day that I rejoice in the election of the 11th bishop of Oregon, the Rev. Akiyama,” said Hanley. “The diocese of Oregon is also grateful to all the candidates who stood for election. In all our work we have continued to pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in this process and I believe that the Spirit was present in all that we did this day.”

 

*This article was originally published on The Rafu Shimpo on July 22, 2021.

 

© 2021 Rafu Shimpo

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